Since we are likely looking at sticking to domestic travel for the remainder of this year, I have been thinking about making a trip back out to western Canada if we are able to get there before winter weather kicks in. I lived in Vancouver, British Columbia for four years until 2013 and have yet to write a post on this blog about my time there. Honestly, because I was living on a student budget and pretty stressed for much of that period, I probably did not take full advantage of my chance to explore the city. If we have the opportunity to make a visit back, I will be sure to relax and enjoy it as a tourist!
During my time as a Vancouver resident, I did manage to get out enough to experience several of the city’s outdoor spots. Compared to Toronto, Vancouver lacks in cultural diversity and entertainment, earning it the longtime nickname of “No Fun City”, but it does make up for this by being the most picturesque city in Canada and a dream destination for nature lovers. Here are a few places that I’d definitely return to visit whenever I make a trip back to the west coast.
Stanley Park is the Central Park of Vancouver, spanning over 400 hectares bordering the downtown area and surrounded by the waters of Burrard Inlet and English Bay. The 8.8 kilometre Seawall is its star feature, a great place for a walk, run, or bike ride. After you pass beneath Lions Gate Bridge, the sunlight changes and you get this incredible view of the water and mountains that seems to go on forever.
There are several other landmarks throughout the park, including some lovely gardens and displays of First Nations totem poles. There aren’t really any noteworthy restaurants or food vendors within the park itself, but there’s a beach and several nice picnic spots, along with areas set up with artists creating and selling their works.
I’m not sure that I can really classify Granville Island as an outdoor spot, but I’ll leave it here anyway. It is a peninsula located across False Creek from downtown Vancouver, situated under the south end of Granville Street Bridge. The ‘island’ is home to 275 businesses and facilities, including the large Granville Public Market that was one of my favourite places to pick up fresh seafood. In terms of dining options, Sandbar is a top choice. The Granville Island Brewing Co. also originated here, although it has since moved a large part of its operations to Kelowna, British Columbia. I believe they still have a tasting room and microbrewery tours on the island for beer lovers who are so inclined.
Kitsilano Beach Park
As far as Canadian city beaches go, Vancouver is the place to be. There are nine major beaches distributed throughout the city, including eight by the ocean and one lakeside. Kitsilano Beach was my most frequented, as it was closest to my home at the time. It is in fact one of the most popular beaches in Vancouver, located on the north edge of the hipster Kitsilano neighbourhood and facing out onto English Bay. The views are nice, the water is cool, and the sand is soft. There’s also a decent outdoor salt water pool operated by the Vancouver Park Board that is open between May and September. The Beaches area in Toronto is quite nice, but I have to admit that I do really miss the beaches in Vancouver – the water quality there is far superior to Lake Ontario, that’s for sure.
If you cross Lions Gate Bridge and enter the north shore of Burrard Inlet, you will find yourself in North Vancouver. This is a municipality in itself, but considered to be part of the Metro Vancouver area. It can be a pain to get to North Vancouver, what with the single lane traffic and sparse public transit, but your efforts to make the trek over will be rewarded with some fantastic outdoor adventures.
One very popular attraction is Grouse Mountain, which is part of the Pacific Ranges. The mountain is an alpine ski area reaching a peak of 1200 metres (4100 feet), and in the summer is accessible via the 2.9 kilometres Grouse Grind hiking trail. Doing the Grouse Grind is a rite of passage for all Vancouverites; I did it twice during my time living in the area. The trail itself is not very exciting, more akin to an outdoor StairMaster, but once you get to the top you can enjoy a sweeping view overlooking the Greater Vancouver Area and also visit the two resident orphan Grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola. You are not allowed to hike back down, but instead can take the short gondola ride at a cost of $15 one-way, which is worth it to save your knees.
Lynn Canyon Park
After conquering the Grouse Grind, a nice place to round out your trip to North Vancouver is Lynn Canyon Park, located just 10 kilometres or a 15 minute drive away from Grouse Mountain. There is also a public bus that can get you there in a bit under one hour. While doing your research on top sights in Vancouver, you may come across information about Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, which will set you back with a $53.95 CAD admission fee. The budget friendly alternative is Lynn Canyon, which also has an impressive suspension bridge, but an admission fee of free! When the weather is warm, there is a 30 foot natural pool where you can have a dip. Unfortunately, I only ever made it out here once and it was in early May when it was still too chilly for a swim.
Regrettably, I have no personal photos from Deep Cove even though it was the most beautiful place I visited in the Vancouver area. Also located on the north shore, Deep Cove is a small bay located at the foot of Mount Seymour, fronting onto Indian Arm which is a branch of Burrard Inlet. It is surrounded by an insanely wealthy residential area, with notable past residents including actor Ben Affleck, who apparently owned a place here sometime in the early 2000s. For the rest of us humble tourists and day trippers, the area is a lovely spot for lots of outdoor activities, particularly kayaking. The views here were just about as majestic as our kayaking excursion on Bai Tu Long Bay in Vietnam.
Vancouver travel tips
The best time to visit Vancouver and its surrounds is during the spring and summer months, between May and September. If you go at any other time of the year, expect a lot of rain. The worst period for me was between November and February, when it would be overcast and drizzling everyday, all day. This is a challenging city to live in for those with seasonal affective disorder.
In terms of the food scene, Vancouver is not very diverse, but you will be happy if you enjoy Japanese cuisine. There is a sizeable Japanese population here, and just about every other restaurant you pass on the street is a sushi place. Even the cheap sushi places are pretty good, especially with their $2 rolls! There is a lot of good Chinese food too, but I suggest venturing out to the suburb of Richmond and avoiding Chinatown, which is one of the sketchiest neighbourhoods I’ve been in Canada.
Transiting through the city is fairly easy as a visitor. The public transit system is not the best but good enough, and will get you close enough to most popular attractions. The SkyTrain light rail system can actually be kind of nice, with its elevated tracks allowing you to admire some great views while on your commute. I wouldn’t bother with a car unless you are looking to go outside the city. That is a topic for another post: best day trips from Vancouver.